Culture Works

Culture Works: Space, Value, and Mobility Across the Neoliberal Americas

Arlene Dávila
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 241
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  • Book Info
    Culture Works
    Book Description:

    Culture Works addresses and critiques an important dimension of the work of culture, an argument made by enthusiasts of creative economies that culture contributes to the GDP, employment, social cohesion, and other forms of neoliberal development. While culture does make important contributions to national and urban economies, the incentives and benefits of participating in this economy are not distributed equally, due to restructuring that neoliberal policies have wrought from the 1980s on, as well as long-standing social structures, such as racism and classism, that breed inequality. The cultural economy promises to make life better, particularly in cities, but not everyone can take advantage of it for decent jobs. Exposing and challenging the taken-for-granted assumptions around questions of space, value and mobility that are sustained by neoliberal treatments of culture, Culture Works explores some of the hierarchies of cultural workers that these engender, as they play out in a variety of settings, from shopping malls in Puerto Rico and art galleries in New York to tango tourism in Buenos Aires. Noted scholar Arlene Davila brilliantly reveals how similar dynamics of space, value and mobility come to bear in each location, inspiring particular cultural politics that have repercussions that are both geographically specific, but also ultimately global in scope.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-4431-4
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-20)

    Culture is on the rise. In most contemporary cities, there is not a project or policy without a “cultural” component, as discussion intensifies over the role culture plays in urban development projects. Tourism and shopping and entertainment based-developments are growing, while cultural workers and “creative classes,” including architects, entertainers, artists, and opinion makers, are increasingly recognized to be central to the economic vitality of modern cities.¹ In this context, cultural initiatives take center stage, though not all manifestations of culture and creative workers benefit equally from this cultural turn. It is the work that culture is increasingly asked to do...

  5. 1 Ideologies of Consumption and the Business of Shopping Malls in Puerto Rico
    (pp. 21-47)

    These are three common responses to the Puerto Rican government’s announcement of a series of emergency measures to address the island’s current economic crisis (Muriente-Pastrana 2008). The sentiments contained in these statements include disbelief that Puerto Rico could in fact be in such bad economic shape when the shopping malls are always full, as well as evidence of two common economic coping strategies: emigration, to improve one’s financial situation, and more consumption, as in “Time to go purchase that discounted TV.” The view that things cannot be that bad because people are shopping is at the core of Puerto Rico’s...

  6. 2 Authenticity and Space in Puerto Rico’s Culture-Based Informal Economy
    (pp. 48-72)

    The informal economy has long served as the refuge of the unemployed and underemployed. This flexible sector—which is never isolated from the “formal economy” and encompasses a wide range of unregulated income-generating activities, from street vending to intermittent services and casual work—can provide the bulk of jobs in many countries throughout the world (Portes, Castells, and Benton 1989). This is even more the case during neoliberal reforms, when government budgets shrink and civil sector jobs disappear, and with them job security and economic stability (Itzigsohn 2006).

    In Puerto Rico, which has had double-digit unemployment for decades, informality has...

  7. 3 The Battle for Cultural Equity in the Global Arts Capital of the World
    (pp. 73-93)

    In today’s economy, street writers,bomba y plenadancers, and tamale makers are not regularly considered cultural creatives. This label has become overidentified with what Robert Reich called the “symbolic analysts,” people working in technology, publishing, advertising, and the arts, or else with the “creative class” in Richard Florida’s work: the architects, novelists, entertainers, opinion makers, and others whose function is to “create meaningful new forms” (Florida 2002). The highly educated, white, liberal, Brooklynite independent writer comes quickly to mind. In contrast, across U.S. cities, barrio cultural creatives are easily dismissed as “ethnic” or quaint, rather than being recognized as...

  8. 4 The Trials of Building a National Museum of the American Latino
    (pp. 94-111)

    “That’s a strange world in which to start building a museum to celebrate Latinos”—so said skeptically aWashington Posteditorial challenging the viability of building an “old-fashioned, balkanized museum of ethnic identity” (Kennicott 2010). In this culture critic’s view, in fifty years we may not even have Latinos as we understand them today, much less the need for a building to celebrate them. The critic was disparaging the project, but when alluding to a “strange world,” he could well have been speaking about the larger context in which a bipartisan bill to create a commission to study the feasibility...

  9. 5 Through Commerce, for Community: Miguel Luciano’s Nuyorican Interventions
    (pp. 112-134)

    Since the 1980s “Hispanic art boom,” when museums and galleries discovered the marketability of exhibiting Latino and Latin American artists under a pan-Latino category, Latino artists have had to maneuver through established boundaries of artistic and identity categorization. Unrecognized by either the Latin American or the North American art canon, a handful of Latino artists attained sudden celebrity, with few institutional structures to support them in the form of museums and galleries, with few professional interlocutors such as critics and curators to translate and validate their work, and with a lack of an established market that would appraise and help...

  10. 6 Tango Tourism and the Political Economy of Space
    (pp. 135-163)

    For years, tango has been Argentina’s most prized attraction, to the point that tourism representatives often equate its promotion with that of Buenos Aires and Argentina at large. From shows to souvenirs to classes to tango-themed dinners, tours, and festivals, tango is now at the core of Buenos Aires’s growth as a global city and is estimated as a $450 million per year industry (OIC 2007). These figures do not account for the purchase of classes, clothing, shoes, and other ancillary items or for a vibrant and diverse tango service industry that is developing apace and that includes, but is...

  11. 7 Urban/Creative Expats: Outsourcing Lives in Buenos Aires
    (pp. 164-188)

    Tourism has often been prized by Latin American governments for the profit and validation it bestows on their countries’ cultural attractions. But when first-world citizens from the United States and Europe with education, options, mobility, and resources choose to settle more permanently in cities once regarded as unfit for modernity or too economically and political unstable, some interesting questions arise. What does the move of first-world citizens to the Global South communicate about the state and impact of global economies in both sending and receiving countries, and what does it reveal about expectations and possibilities for progress, modernity, citizenship, and...

  12. Conclusion: The Cultural Politics of Neoliberalism
    (pp. 189-200)

    I wrote this book with two primary goals in mind. The first was to explore the work of culture in neoliberalism with a critical eye. The cultural turn in urban cultural policies, be it in urban planning or tourism, is often celebrated as the solution to the standardization of space and the mainstreaming of culture that often characterizes neoliberalizing contexts. For one, culture-based strategies are believed to mitigate the inequalities and struggles over cultural equity and representation that these policies also generate. My goal was to challenge this view by exploring the cultural politics of neoliberalism, by exposing how inclined...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 201-206)
  14. References
    (pp. 207-220)
  15. Index
    (pp. 221-231)
  16. About the Author
    (pp. 232-232)